Five lessons

Five Lessons for anyone looking to achieve results in 2013-15

Huge amounts hinge on the election result in 2015. Business success or failure can be brought closer by government policy. Organisations’ objectives can be delivered or destroyed. Those looking to help shape their destiny should bear five things in mind.

1. Any Election result is Possible

In the run-up to four of the last five elections, the outcome has been more or less beyond doubt. For anyone interested in working with the coming government and looking to influence or understand their agenda, the place to focus resources has been obvious. Prudent stakeholders were able to hedge in an easy way by checking in with the opposition, but this could almost seem a courtesy effort at times.

However, as the earlier chapter in this document sets out, just about any outcome still seems possible in 2015.

This not only means that any of four or five agendas could be crucial, it also strengthens the competition for ideas. Each party will want to align itself with the right stakeholders and demonstrate it has a plan for them, while also seeking to grab policy ideas before their rivals. Those organisations looking to set the pace can, through hard work, take advantage.

 

2. Short term ideas are needed as well

The failure of the House of Lords reform legislation left a hole in the legislative timetable which members of the Government have been remarkably frank about. It has been partially filled with legislation on planning but the seeming scramble to get together something in time was indicative of a bigger issue. Unlike previous governments, where departments could end up scrapping for the scarce space on the order paper, the paucity of ready Bills seems glaring. While the mid-term review was full of promises of future action, it still did not add up to a full programme of action in the way the 2010 Coalition agreement did.

In opposition, the Coalition parties could appear very relaxed about such a prospect. Indeed, current Cabinet Member Chris Grayling complained in 2009 that the Labour approach to law and order policy relied on ‘too much legislation and not enough action’. This attitude, coupled with the repeated warnings of the need for a reduction in regulation, could suggest that the Coalition would be relaxed about a period in which the Queen is not troubled for her signature too much.

But the problem with a government that does nothing in Parliament is that it can swiftly seem to do nothing at all. Ministers find their ability to grab headlines with new announcements is limited by no longer being able to pull out new powers, offences or penalties. And MPs strive to fill the gap with projects (or mischief) of their own – if not driven in one direction they are liable to run off in several different ones.

For these reasons, the Government is still in the market for short term ideas, both regulatory and deregulatory. These of course must still play to the Government’s overall narrative, and be tolerable within the Coalition.

 

3. Local issues matter

The tightness of the election result last time, and the high likelihood of a similar result this time, mean that every seat will be fought over. Part of this will be about intelligent targeting of campaigning resources. But equally it will be about the candidates’ positioning on big issues that really matter to local people.

Airport capacity is probably the most high profile example, which is probably why the Government has chosen to kick the issue into the long grass. But there are other issues which matter acutely in certain areas, such as the High Speed 2 rail line for constituencies along that route or defence procurement for shipyards.

Local issues such as school provision, hospital closures or civic redevelopment always matter in elections. But as the parties scrap ever harder for every single seat, constituency-specific arguments will come to the fore in the individual battles all over the country.

They will be even more hotly contested in this country’s ‘Ohios’ – crucial swing seats which could make the difference between victory and defeat. Those caught in the crossfire of those local battles need to understand how they relate to the national war.

 

4. Nobody wants to look profligate

The debate over the Government’s deficit reduction programme has focussed not on the principle that a tightening of belts is essential for the nation’s future, but on the detail of how fast such a reduction should occur (and where the cuts should fall). Although the differences in their approach are much discussed and analysed, what Ed Balls has offered so far is a plan to close the structural deficit slightly more slowly than George Osborne.

All parties will want to lay claim to policies which support economic growth and jobs. But the terms of debate since the election have meant that ‘borrow and spend’ is no longer an option. Even if economic growth remains underwhelming all the way to 2015, the ‘kitchen table’ common sense of the Government needing to live within its means has become too strong for anyone serious to propose an alternative view.

As such, the parties will run scared of any policy idea which is not costed and accounted for, or which seems profligate and expensive. Anyone looking to influence policy ideas for the three main parties will need to live within these rules – pitches for extravagant extensions in government spending will likely get nowhere. Innovative thinking about how economic growth can be supported outside fiscal measures will though be gratefully grabbed by the under-pressure Treasury teams.

 

5. Now is the time to engage

The work to win the next election nowadays starts immediately after the new Parliament takes shape. But the first year in government is about setting out a vision, while the second is about demonstrating the capacity for delivery.

This means the generation of ideas probably reaches its peak in year three of a government, before the manifestos start to take shape and the parties get into campaigning mode in the year after.

Although the election still feels a long way off, the hard work needs to start now.